Trey Burke Jazz
If Trey Burke can emerge as Utah’s best player, things are looking up in Salt Lake City. (Don Ryan/Associated Press)

Last season: 25-57, 5th Northwest Division (15th Western Conference), Missed Playoffs

Notable Acquisitions: F Trevor Booker (free agent, WAS), G Toure’ Murry (free agent, NYK), F Steve Novak (trade w/ TOR), G/F Jordan Hamilton (claimed off waivers via TOR), F Joe Ingles (Australia)

Draft Picks: G Dante Exum (Australia, 5th overall), G/F Rodney Hood (Duke, 23rd overall pick)

Notable Losses: F Marvin Williams (CHA), G/F Richard Jefferson (DAL), F Malcolm Thomas (PHI), G Brandon Rush (GSW), G John Lucas III (free agent)

Jazz Core

Burning Question: How good is Utah’s young core?

There are rumblings around the league that Utah’s core of Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Trey Burke has a limited ceiling. It’s a very solid starting 5 potentially but they will have a lot of dog days in the West.

If no one has a breakout year, the Jazz could be stuck in mediocrity for the foreseeable future.

Storyline:

It was a very mixed bag of goodies for the Utah Jazz this summer. On one hand, they drafted a potential star in Dante Exum but they also resigned Gordon Hayward to a maximum deal of 4 years/$63 million.

Let’s back up a bit…they did what!?!? Hayward is a very versatile performer who has been underrated in past years. Now, he is being paid like a perennial All-Star and now has to produce like one. It’s not a knock on Hayward per se, it just shows how difficult it is to build a contender from the ground up.

As a small market team, the Jazz can’t afford to lose any of their young pieces, especially if they’re still on rookie scale deals. But now, after extending Derrick Favors and Hayward, they need to decide whether Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and Trey Burke (2013 All-Rookie 1st Team) are in the future plans.

Right now, Utah has a very solid foundation of players. But do the parts exactly fit together? Kanter and Favors don’t exactly complement each other on the floor since they both like operating down low. If the pair doesn’t work out in 2015, look for Kanter to be dealt for either more help on the wing or a future draft pick.

Utah Jazz Media Day

The same goes for Alec Burks and Trey Burke. The Burks-Burke connection could actually work long-term but one has to wonder about Burks’s status after the team selected Dante Exum no. 5 overall. An improved shooter and slasher, Alec was a hot commodity around the draft last year but the Jazz were reluctant to deal him.

Even Burke’s name came up in some discussions for a possible trade. The All-Rookie performer showed flashes of brilliance in his first year (3:1 assist to turnover ratio, 12.8 ppg) and played with the moxie and fearlessness of a 10-year vet.

With Exum in the fold, though, they don’t exactly fit together on the court. Both love handling the ball and creating for others, something that could be problematic for new coach Quin Snyder to sort out.

If Snyder and the Jazz ever figure out the best lineups, there is no reason why Utah can’t be a much improved team. In the short term, stockpiling young talent like Hayward, Exum, Kanter, Favors, the “Burke Brothers” and emerging pivot Rudy Gobert, is probably the right way to go.

But to avoid purgatory in the daunting Western Conference, the Jazz need to make some tough decisions down to road. If their young core struggles to improve, more wholesale changes are bound to happen.

Projected Starting 5:

Go-Go-Gobert!:

rudy-gobert-nba-portland-trail-blazers-utah-jazz-850x560

Rudy Gobert is easily the best kept secret in the Association. The second-year big turned heads with his eye-popping performance in the FIBA World Cup. He helped lead France¬†to an upset over a powerful Spain group by frustrating one of the league’s top big men, Pau Gasol.

He is 7’2″ (yes, you read that right), can run the floor, has great shot blocking instincts and is an improving scorer. Gobert aka Inspector Gadget (A¬†Delay of Game original nickname) will have an excellent sophomore campaign if Coach Snyder can find minutes for him.

Surprise, Surprise:

Under a new coach and with a more experienced roster, there is an outside chance this year’s version of the Utah Jazz could have a Phoenix Suns-like revival from a year ago. Burke-Burks & Exum should put pressure on opposing defenses from day one with their playmaking and explosiveness, Hayward will be motivated to live up to his huge deal, and the big guys (Kanter, Favors, Gobert, Jeremy Evans) could create a devastating interior presence.

It may be wishful thinking for Jazz fans but stranger things have happened in recent years.

Fantasy Sleeper:

Rodney-Hood-Utah-Jazz-NBA-Summer-League-Quin-Snyder

F Rodney Hood: Utah desperately needed wing help heading into this year’s draft. They may have stumbled upon the steal of the draft in Duke’s Rodney Hood, a lean forward with a nice handle and sweet stroke.

He should get plenty of minutes playing behind Hayward and Burks in 2015. Expect lots of three-pointers along with a decent amount of boards and assists.

Best Case: Trey Burke shows he is a potential franchise PG, the rest of Utah’s young core continues to develop and the Jazz retain a high lottery pick in the 2015 draft.

Worst Case: Utah gets “picked on” again in the West, ends up with a low lottery selection and their core either remains stagnant or regresses.

Season Prediction:

4th, Northwest Division (14th Western Conference), Will Miss Playoffs

“There are leaders vocally, and there are leaders by example.”- Trey Burke

#DOFGAME #DOG

-Jabari J.

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